After wearing a Guilford police badge for nearly four decades, it’s going to take a while for Robert “Skip” Robinson not to react when he hears a siren or passes an officer stepping up to a motor vehicle stop.
“How can you not miss it? It’s been a part of my life for 37 years,” says Skip, who officially retired his lieutenant’s bars in August and served his last day on June 9. “I’ve always enjoyed police work. It’s been a wonderful career.”
Skip was humbled and touched by a department celebration given in his honor on his last day.
“I wanted to just kind of go out the door quietly, and they really surprised me with that,” says Skip. “It was very, very thoughtful of them, very kind.”
A Guilford resident since childhood, Skip came up through the ranks, beginning as a patrol officer in 1979 and steadily rising to fulfill several key positions in the department, with the last half of his career serving as lieutenant/field supervisor.
“Basically, he’s irreplaceable,” Chief of Police Jeffrey Hutchinson says. “He’s been here 37 years; he’s a Guilford kid, so he has not only the local knowledge, but the institutional knowledge and the experience. Not only that, he was a fantastic cop and a great supervisor and a good boss. Skip was somebody that you could rely on and trust completely. To lose someone like that is very difficult.”
Skip is proud to say he spent his entire career as a cop in his hometown.
“It’s an amazing department to work for,” Skip says. “They really take care of their people and there’s a lot of mutual respect. It’s like a family. We also have huge support in this community, and that’s a credit to the officers that work here. I think they go above and beyond normal police work. We’re very community oriented.”
During his tenure, Skip served with five police chiefs (including one interim chief).
“You take away something from every one of those leaders, and you try to learn and expand on it,” he says.
Skip’s knack for building a supportive team and leading by example was largely modeled after one of his first supervisors.
“I think the person I learned the most from was my sergeant at the time, Art Dolan,” says Skip.
Dolan, who retired as a lieutenant, passed away in 2014.
“He was probably the mentor that I took away the most from. When he was promoted to lieutenant, and shortly after that, I was promoted to sergeant, I thought, ‘That’s the kind of sergeant I want to be.’ He really cared about his officers. My squad actually looked forward to him coming to our shift. I thought he brought some very great leadership to them.”
On the force nine years when he was promoted to sergeant from corporal, Skip brought his experience as a training officer in defensive tactics to his new leadership role.
Skip was promoted to lieutenant after one of his co-workers, Lt. Mike Denison, was struck and injured on the job by a drunk driver in 1996. The accident drives home the daily dangers faced by the men and women who police the community, says Skip.
That’s why, even in retirement, “If I see one of the officers pulled over on the side of the road, I still watch them. If they’re struggling on the side of the road, I’d help them in minute.”
A true believer in teamwork, Skip was instrumental in the formation of Guilford Police’s SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Team, which eventually teamed up with Branford, then Madison and now is part of South Central Regional SWAT Team.
Among his many awards and accolades received through the years (including Life Saving, Medal of Valor and Meritorious Service), “the ones I’m most proud of are the unit citations,” Skip says. “Those are ones where we worked as a team.”
With all of the hours dedicated to the job, the holidays missed, the vacations deferred, Skip says there’s another team member to be recognized: his wife, Kathy. The two met in 1977, married in 1981, and raised their daughter in town.
“My wife has been wonderful through the whole thing,” says Skip. “She stuck through it. I give her a real lot of credit.”
In 37 years of community policing, Skip has seen his share of crime and tragedy on the job.
“We have all the same problems that you have in the city,” he says. “We don’t get the volume, but it’s there. We get the bank robberies, the hold-ups at convenience stores; it’s here. I think we address it very, very aggressively, as best a department can. We try to do the best job possible. It’s really a credit to the officers.”
One of the most tragic events during his time on the force took place in 2000, after 20 year-old Mindy Leigh was strangled to death and her body found in a field at Guilford Fairgrounds, followed two months later by the triple stabbing murders of Kitty Kleinkauf and her two children, Kyle Redway, 4, and Rachael Crum, 6. Both crimes were found to be committed by Kleinkauf’s nephew Jonathan Mills.
“That was a huge tragedy,” says Skip. “And I’ve lost count on how many fatal motor vehicle accidents I went to. Those are always tragic—going to speak to the families; the loss of their family member. It’s awful. That kind of thing is very hard.”
It’s a demanding and difficult profession, but Skip says he’s glad he chose policing. The Guilford High School alumnus (Class of 1974) graduated from the University of Maine with a forestry degree and was considering a career as a game warden. Back home after college, he got involved with policing by a twist of fate.
“At the time, my best friend’s brother became a state trooper, so it kind of piqued my interest in police work,” says Skip. “And one of my friends’ fathers, who was an auxiliary state trooper, said, ‘If you’re interested, they’re taking applications.’ So in ’77 I joined the State Police Auxiliary. I really enjoyed the work, so I started applying to departments.”
Following the testing process, Skip was in the pool of potential hires for South Windsor, Tolland, and Guilford. He was accepted by Guilford in 1979.
“The day I was given the job in Guilford, Tolland...called me and said, ‘Do you want the job?’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve taken the job in my hometown.’ That was kind of fortunate,” says Skip, smiling.
At that time, Guilford Police served out of a small headquarters on Boston Street (now part of Town Hall South) before the current building was built in 1996 at 400 Church Street. For a guy who started out when the booking process still involved fingerprints rolled on inkpads (prints are now electronically scanned), Skip’s seen a lot of change.
“The department has grown so much, and police work has changed so much,” he says. “When I started it was paper. We did all our handwritten reports in the car. Then we moved to laptops and computers in the car. With the information technology now, everything’s at a patrolman’s fingertips in the cars, and the information they can get, really quickly, is unbelievable.”
For Skip, it’s the right time to retire and give another young officer the opportunities he found with Guilford Police. He’s been enjoying traveling with Kathy and “kind of taking a breath,” he says.
While Skip likes to joke he made the decision to retire last year while trying to keep up with his team at a SWAT Challenge, on a serious note, he says, “I think it’s time. We have young men and women out here who want a crack at my job, and the department’s in really, really good hands. I’m 61 now—time to go and enjoy it. I’m still in Guilford, so I can come back and visit. They always make me feel welcome.”